the g and d chords

The vast majority of a working guitar player’s life is spent in accompaniment mode, which means you’re going to be playing a lot of chords. In this lesson my aim is to introduce to, and get you playing two chords that will be with you for the rest of your guitar-playing life. Getting clear sounding chords is generally quite difficult for beginners, but great fun once you’ve got them dialed in.

First let’s talk about what chords are. A basic definition of a chord is three or more notes sounded together. I'll get more in depth on this in a later lesson, but essentially a chord is what results from three or more notes being played at once. On your guitar this will occur when three or more strings are plucked with one pickstroke. The first two chords we’ll learn are G and D, and it’s hard to imagine two more useful chords. To say you’ll be playing them a lot would be a tremendous understatement.

G & D        

The above are called fingerboard diagrams, and they are the most common method used to display chords and their fingerings. The six vertical lines represent the strings, from left to right 6-5-4-3-2-1. The horizontal lines represent the frets, with the exception of the very top line, which is the nut, the little piece of bone, plastic, or graphite intended to keep the strings separated on the way to their respective tuning pegs. The nut is not to be confused with a fret! The placement of your fingers is determined by the placement of the big dots. The numbers above the diagrams are telling you which finger is which dot. An O tells you that that string is to be played open, without any fretting-hand fingers making contact with the strings. X means the string is not to be picked at all. That in mind, let’s try the G chord.

Begin by placing the third finger of your fretting-hand on the third fret of the first string, remembering to place your finger directly behind the fret with your top knuckle (closest to your fingernail) bent away from the fingerboard. Make sure the note is fretted correctly by picking it a few times. Clarity is not something you want to sacrifice. The 0's on the second, third, and fourth strings indicate that you are to play those strings open, without fretting anything. Finish by placing your first finger on the second fret of the fifth string, and your second finger on the third fret of the sixth string.

Once your hand is in place, we need to take a little inventory and make sure each of the six notes involved are sounding clearly. While holding your fingers in position, pick each string one at a time from 6 to 1. If you're on your fingertips, and applying the right amount of pressure you should be in good shape, but if you are like most beginners, you probably just heard a series of sounds that could best be described as a mess. That's ok. Chords are very difficult when you start out, since they involve the precise placement of several fingers at once. Keep your fingers on the strings, and locate the notes that need adjustment by picking each string individually. Make sure everything is against the fret, and that the top knuckle of each finger is bent slightly and try again. Very often the biggest problem is that fingers are touching strings that they shouldn't be. Patience and perseverance will win out. Keep troubleshooting and adjusting until every one of those notes is clear and beautiful. Then remove your hand from the guitar and do it all over again.

Once the G chord is working, try the D using the same methodology. Remember, the X's indicate strings that are not to be picked at all. Most people have an easier time with this one, but I have met those who have an easier time with the G. Practice these chords with purpose every day, and in a matter of weeks you’ll have them sounding terrific. Later we’ll work on changing smoothly between them, and introduce some new ones.

Here’s a video demonstrating what you want your chords to sound like. Notice that my fingers all move at once.